Friday, August 03, 2007
Bigger than Oprah: An interview with Yang Lan

"They are under orders not to let in any foreigners who want to do interviews."

It’s a pretty clear message, relayed to us by our intern as we sit in a people carrier on the outskirts of Beijing. We have arrived at a large, run down TV studio to interview China’s answer to Oprah Winfrey and “Image Ambassador” for the Olympics, Yang Lan. The studio’s security guards, however, seem to have other ideas.

Yang is at the pinnacle of her career. She has a TV audience in the hundreds of millions, a very lucrative TV production empire and has just been voted the most beautiful woman in China. Notably, she was instrumental in China‘s successful bid for the Games.

On the day of our interview with her for Talk Asia, she is presenting China’s version of Pop Idol (the UK talent show-turned-international-franchise which spawned shows such as American Idol). It’s called Olympic Songfest, a prime time, government-sponsored program seeking songs and performers for the Olympics. And despite arranging our interview slot, we don’t appear to be too welcome.

After some negotiation, we find ourselves in a smoke-filled waiting area outside the soundstage. Audience members, technicians and aspiring singers mingle, eating canteen-provided food and tapping cigarettes on overflowing ashtrays. Inside the studio, filming is under way. Our subject is serene on stage in the eye of the storm, as camera cranes swoop and the audience dutifully claps when prompted by floor managers.

Tall, elegant and focused, she holds as commanding a presence in person as she does on television. After a long conversation with a female contestant, kitted out in a tracksuit and baseball cap, the lights dim and the bubble machine switches into gear. The girl belts out a power ballad of the first order, with images of Chinese flags and past Olympic glories beaming out from a screen above her.

The taping of "Songfest" is fast and furious. Three weeks’ worth of shows gets crammed into a single afternoon of recording, with the set constructed and dismantled that same day. By 6pm – with three hours of work still ahead of her – Yang has lost none of her charisma, still finding the energy at one point to sing and shake her fist during a particularly rousing number. Then she disappears off to her changing room for a rest and costume change.

Our plan had been to film Yang giving Talk Asia presenter Anjali Rao a tour of her set during this time and - urged on by other visitors to her changing room – I knock and enter to discuss the shoot. Yang is sitting in a make up chair reading scripts and the look on her face tells me she is clearly appalled at my barging in uninvited. It is not an ideal first impression and I beat a hasty retreat.

Fortunately, such bumbling does not derail the shoot and we film a walk and talk around her set with two of our own cameras as a bemused studio audience looks on. Finally, we repair to another dressing room to set up for the main sit down interview: It doesn’t appear promising, with burnt out light bulbs, mosquitoes and cigarette butts on the floor. But after our cameraman extraordinaire works his magic, the room becomes an atmospheric den for speakeasy chat.

Her filming duties now complete at 9:30 pm, Yang arrives and takes her seat. She is charming, intelligent and extremely polished. It is not hard to see why she was selected as an ambassador by Beijing as she enthuses about the Olympics in a style befitting the most silver-tongued of Western politicians. But then, her position as a leading anchor and face of the Games could be considered political in contemporary China.

Yang delivers a searing performance after a 12-hour working day and falters only once. It is when we press her about media censorship - when the last time the government intervened in one of her programs. She takes a few minutes as she ponders her answer, before collecting herself and delivering a reply as polished as she is.

Despite discreet inquiries, we never find out who issued the security guards their orders.

-- From CNNI Talk Asia Producer, Nick Parker.
Just caught the interview (on CNN in Tokyo) with Yang Lan. Frankly, I'm not impressed by her claims about how much 'progress' China has made, and how 'ready' they are for the 2008 Summer Games:

More PR blather, from another mouthpiece of the Chinese government. I don't care how much glitter and shine you put on those lips Yang Lan, sugar-coated lies, in an attempt to improve the Party image aren't convincing.

Needless to say, I'm skipping the events this year.

Final words: Stop shipping your dangerous and crappy imports to the U.S., open up full internet access to all Chinese people, and put Freedom where your mouth is. We aren't falling for your lies.

Don't eat sour grape! Stand up & compete instead, on a level playing field!

Too bad you feel sore, but the rest of the world, especially the developing ones, are having none of your jealousy; so go have a good mug of bear, & better still, bath in one if you can, if that will ever make you more sober & balance-minded.

Crapy imports? Just don't buy them! Nobody forces you on gun point to have them! By the way, Mexico exports more crapy stuff to the US, so, let's be a real man, YOU should see things in the right context! Or, alas, this is afterall a mere smoke screen for trade protectionism.

Just who are you to want to enforce freedom, free internet access & all these craps to the Chinese people? Not another whiteman's burden theory of the 18th-19th century? So what if we are stubborn enough not to swallow your instructions? Would you like to bring your gun-boats again as if it was like those good old days?

Wake up, mate! This is already the 21st century!

you really should take a look at Russo"s movie AMERICA: FROM FREEDOM TO FASCISM, or try to know sth about School of Americas, Bonus Army, etc before airing your opinion. Otherwise, take Mark Twaine's advice: It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it up and remove all doubt.
Unfortunately China is huge manipulated society and everything they show accept carefully
Having recently returned to the US from an extended visit in China, I can say with authority that the Chinese government is just as corrupt as ever. But what exactly does that mean?

The classic novel Journey to the West includes 81 hardships for the monk Xuánzàng. Near the end of the quest, he must bribe Buddhist monks to obtain the required holy books. When he attempts to refuse this, he is brought up short by Buddha himself for his arrogance of challenging the existing system.

How does one change a 2500 year old culture that defines evil as challenging the status quo?
None is more arrogance than those educated-illiterate who claimed to say about China after some brief stay there,with authority.

Yang is more than just Oprah, the sheer and vast population of her viewers could easily surpass ther American screem.

CNN and BBC are a gang of media-vultures and scanvangers that thrive in China Bashing vis-a-vis Lou Dobbs daily preaching on China bashing vis-a-vis food,toys, and outsourcing that deprived and diminished American works, and the polluted and foggy Beijing weather(Were Mexian City and Los Angeles that hosted Olympic also had similiar problems).

Wake up,Yangs, the sun is rising and to stay.
Hi guys who are angry with MG/Tokyo here, please calm down, and listen to what he/she was saying..
Let's not compare ourselves with other country in order to excuse ourselves, shall we? If one person kills his father, does not mean that you are not being cruel to kill your own. No matter the quality of Mexico products, or the Human Rights issues in the states, Chinese always have to reflect on their own issues, and try to improve itself.

It would be much helpful in the long term if we see the criticism as a force to change, the change for the better, rather than trying to excuse ourselves..
If the Communist government of China can harvest organs from live prisoners(some of them belong to peaceful spiritual groups)and sell them for $$$, no unspeakble crimes they do to make money or to make the CCP party look good will surprise me. Just imagine that you can be detained, sent to labor camps, bancrupted and tortured to death just for believing in Jesus or owning a Bible. How great will China be if they keep doing this and lying to the outside world?
Yang Lan is a tool used by the Communist Regime to put on the false image. Communist government does not represent China. The business community, including all these industries that produce these sub-standard products does not represent China. Only the Chinese people of China with the history and culture of 5000+ years are true China. The communist government is actually distroying the real Chinese culture and moral of Chinese people by constant violence, lies, lies and more lies. Only after this government is eliminated, can China be a true China which will be respected for her true rich culture and long history of civilization. Hopefully, that day will come soon.
It is quite amusing to see such passion and hatred and prejudice awaken from such an innocuous story. We Chinese have made great progress these last decades- we eliminated slavery without fighting a civil war over it, we defeated imperialism without nuking civilian cities, we accepted children of all races into our schools (without needing the national guard to protect the buses), we rose up from the hell of the Mao years and we became stronger than ever before. Look to your best universities, top firms, and you will find Chinese graduates.
Complain all you like: America's dominance cannot and will not last forever. The military machine you flaunt so proudly to solve everything your minds cannot is not up to Iraq- how do you think it would fare against the PLA?
Economically and militarily- dominance slowly slips from your grasp.
It is interesting to read all the comments. We look at others through our own lens, to hold others to the highest standard, and excuse our every failings. Please remember that the only fair way to look at things is to apply the principle of universality, i.e. is the criticism applied equally. No one is perfect, and we can all learn from others
Yang Lan is the most elegant and graceful woman in China. we all like her very much. she is diligent and caring having donated enormous amount of money to the charity.yet she still keeps low profile in her doing so.
MG/Tokyo here.

Your points are well understood, and I would be happy to see China rise and become a beneficent leader in the world. Do not think for a minute that I don't see the hypocrisy of the U.S. government every day, but this is a blog about China (get with the program).

I simply would like to be able to buy stuff other than toys painted with poison! Where is China's originality, where is its passion for quality instead of quantity? All it seems to know how to do is steal ideas from other countries! Sometimes I think the only industry in China is piracy (CDs, stereos, handbags, cartoon characters, watches, shoes, brand logos, computer technology, military I NEED to list all the stuff China has copied/stolen/sold illegally in the past?!)

And why? Because its government doesn't allow its people to think for themselves. I don't blame the Chinese people: I blame the corrupt Chinese government.

One anonymous poster said it best: "Only the Chinese people of China with the history and culture of 5000+ years are true China."

My only wish is that the 'true' Chinese would throw out the bums in government: like we're going to do with Bush next election!...But maybe that's asking too much: they don't get to have elections in China!

In any case, don't knock Lou Dobbs: he doesn't just bash China for making dangerous toys. He bashes the U.S. government for allowing those imports into the country. And he bashes greedy corporations for betraying the American people in the name of profits! Yes indeed, America has it's own backyard to clean up...but that conversation is on another blog...

Yes, right, just continue buying your U.S. propaganda and remind yourself that U.S. is always the No.1 of the world. China is not buying this shit and neither does Europe. I just simply don't get what is so good to make yourself enemies everywhere in the world?? Solve your own problem, cease the fire in Florida, heal the real estate market, stop spending money on Iraq war.... don't you guys get enough troubles on hand?? What changed most after Europeans immigrated into the U.S. their size of mouth!!~
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